Fun time: England sprinters Laura Turner and Mark Lewis-Francis with high jumper Martyn Bernard at the Doha training camp
Linford Christie got me back in the fast lane! Mark Lewis-Francis hails his coach as he chases Commonwealth Games gold
By Jonathan McEvoy in Delhi
30th September 2010
UK Daily Mail
In the hours between the morning and evening sessions that bookend the worst of Doha's 42-degree heat, Mark Lewis-Francis spoke of two legends who have helped make him favourite for the 100 metres gold medal at the Commonwealth Games.
The first: his friend and coach, Linford Christie. The second: his long-time critic and butt -kicker, Michael Johnson.
Crackling down the phone from the team's holding camp in the Middle East ahead of competition in Delhi next week, Lewis-Francis said: 'Linford has inspired me. He's mentored me in the right directions.
'He's a legend not just on the track but as a coach as well. I don't think he gets rated enough for that.
He's brought so many athletes through. He gave me the confidence and belief that I can go out there and do it.'
There are those who object to Christie's involvement in athletics given the doping ban that detracts from the memory of his 100m gold medal at the Barcelona Olympics of 1992, but the positive impact on his pupil is clear to see.
By his own admission, Lewis-Francis was at a low ebb 18 months ago. His Lottery funding dried up. He was mentally anguished. His achilles was not fit for service.
It was around then that he took up with Christie. Now, he has silver in the 100m at July's European Championships to his name - finally a first senior individual medal for the former world junior champion.
The narrative of past underachievement has long been underlined by Michael Johnson, as astute a pundit as he was an immortal sprinter. In 2005, he said: 'He suffers from an inability to make good decisions and use solid judgment when faced with a dilemma, and that is a characteristic many people never develop even after they have matured.
'My bet would have to be that Mark will never reach his full potential of being a consistent major championship medallist.'
Not long before, Lewis-Francis had excused a failed drugs test by saying he had inhaled second-hand cannabis smoke. It sounded a whiff concocted.
Having won silver in Barcelona this summer, Lewis-Francis gestured that Johnson button his lip. Johnson 'didn't appreciate the lack of graciousness.'
Now, Lewis-Francis was less belligerent. 'Michael was a great athlete,' he said. 'I have no qualms with Michael at all. If anything, I've learned a lot from what he's been saying.
'I have learned to be humble, man. At the time I was just expressing my feelings - that medal in Barcelona was my Olympics, my World Championships. If he had known what I had been through over the last 18 months he would understand the reasons I said what I did.
'I hope my best years lie ahead. I train very, very hard. I have a lot more experience of athletics. I
had no choice but to grow up. It was make or break for me 18 months ago. I think I have made the right decisions. I really needed to think where I wanted to go.'
These Games, sadly without galacticos Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell, offer Lewis-Francis a chance to claim his first major championship, possibly without having to break the 10-second mark.
He could not instantly recall the name of a rival. 'I don't feel there is expectation,' he said, remembering that he pulled up with a torn hamstring in the 100m final in Manchester eight years ago and was disqualified for false-starting in Melbourne in 2006.
'It would just be nice to see myself in the final. Gold? It would be great, and after Barcelona my confidence is sky high.'